Sewage Warrior: A Plumber Recounts His Adventures
Repairing pipes, drains, clogs, broken faucets, and leaks have been a real headache in homes worldwide since modern society began to exist.
To solve such difficulties there is a profession that, though useful, is usually ignored: the plumber.
Even though there is no dedicated plumber school in Mexico, people always have one a phone call away. These days, social media platforms such as Facebook are an excellent place to find specialists who offer their services for those who need a plumbing check-up.
Manuel Bernal, a 63-year-old plumber, has lived a life filled with these types of repairs, long before the advent of Facebook, when people would use the phone book to find services.
“I have lived through many good things and several struggles. But like every other job, there are things I loved and those I hated,” said Bernal. “I learned the trade from my uncle since I was young. I have been working as a plumber for 40 years.”
Among their many tasks, plumbers install and maintain all running water drains in houses, commercial premises, office buildings, and workshops.
“If someone grosses out easily, plumbing is not for them. In this job, I have had to work in dirty places such as drains or broken toilets. It is a job littered with bad odors, but once people start seeing the money, they get used to it,” said Bernal, originally from the city of Veracruz. “Furthermore, nowadays, there are additional tools to use than what I had when I started. There are latex gloves and jumpsuits to use. In the past, we had to work in our daily clothes, and we ended up smelling when we finished.”
According to Bernal, being a plumber requires a strong sense of responsibility since results depend entirely on how well and how much they work. And if they work diligently, they will gain new clients.
“There are difficult times for sure, as some clients get angry or are never satisfied. There are also good clients, but it’s the bad ones that we have to learn how to deal with them,” he said. “I also had to learn how to handle situations without them getting out of control. It is crucial to know how to treat customers.”
Plumbing can also expose workers to situations that put their health and physical integrity at risk.
“We work with products that harm health, such as lead, bleach, solvents, glues, and many sharp tools,” said Bernal. “There is a lot of risks in this trade. We can cut or hurt ourselves or even fall off a ladder.”
Although plumbers are not scarce in Mexico, Bernal fears for the future of the trade as, according to him, few young people are interested in learning it. He thinks that the new generations prefer less ‘laborious’ jobs.
“There are very few young plumbers, and that is a bit worrying. We are necessary for modern’s society, but young people prefer working in something calmer and easier, without trying so hard. It is common here in Mexico,” he said.
Bernal has been a freelance plumber most of his life, and he says the job can provide a good income as long as the plumber knows their work. Even better are those plumbers hired exclusively by companies, as they have benefits, such as healthcare and social security, in addition to their salary.
“It is possible to live off plumbing so long as the plumber works hard. If they do a bad job, they burn that bridge with that client who will not call them again. If a plumber does his job right, they will become that family’s go-to for any emergency. The money is out there for those who know how to work for it,” he said.
(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Kristen Butler)